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#4165, 7 November 2013
India-Pakistan: Afghan End-Game
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief
Rising Kashmir

Post International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal from Afghanistan is a scenario that has thrown up more than one concern for the bigger players in the game. Whatever the fate of Afghanistan and its people, the issue which is being paid attention from Washington to Delhi is the Indian role in the stability and reconstruction of a country that is in tatters due to the successive wars it has seen for over three decades now. With Washington and Delhi being closer to each other than the significant distance both maintained during the Cold War, the role for Delhi is not out of the ambit of the discussions that are taking place on the subject. But despite India’s visible presence in current Afghanistan, the greater effort to secure more space in the process of deciding its fate post ISAF withdrawal is becoming a major source of not discomfort but irritation for Pakistan. For past few years, India’s current as well as future role in Afghanistan has been a subject that Pakistan does not want to even consider for discussion. However, India is insisting on opening up formal talks with Pakistan, as it is aware of the sensitivities entailed with such a precarious situation.
Delhi has its own theory of getting involved in Afghanistan. From claiming its older civilization links with the region to helping Afghanistan to become a country worth living, India has also been trying to display the greater power its presumably assumes in the region. What helped it, to be seen in Afghanistan, was the bettered relation the Karzai regime has with Pakistan and its deterioration helped to open up more doors for India’s involvement.

Karzai government has been at logger heads with Islamabad right from Musharraf’s time till today as it strongly believed that certain important sections in Pakistan’s security establishments had been helping Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. Nevertheless Pakistan’s geographical proximity to Afghanistan could not keep it at bay as far as its role in the post September 11 attacks is concerned.

Delhi’s increasing effort to fit in the “great game” that is likely to ensue after the 2014 withdrawal, however, has not been reciprocated positively by Pakistan for varied reasons. The divergent rather opposite views are part of any discourse that is shaping on these lines. At a recent high level Track-II dialogue on India-Pakistan facilitated by German think tank Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the differing views were more than clear. Pakistani participants were clear in their thinking that Pakistan had a lead role in Afghanistan and they also aired the concerns about what they call India’s “sinister” support to certain separatist groups along the borders in Pakistan. The charge, Indian participants would vehemently refute.

As of now Delhi would only insist on having a dialogue on the subject, which of course is not palatable to Islamabad. This silent war has been going on for long time. With Delhi spending more than $ 2 billion in past several years on the “reconstruction” process in Afghanistan, its stakes are increasing and that is why Islamabad sees “red” in Delhi being too “enthusiastic.” I remember how Shah Mehmooh Qureshi, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan vehemently opposed India’s role in London Conference (on Afghanistan) in January 2010. He succeeded in curtailing India’s influence saying that joint Af-Pak policy was not applicable for Pakistan. He had earlier expressed his fears in an interview to Los Angeles Times on October 3 2009 when he emphasized “If you want Pakistan focused more on the (threat from Afghanistan in the) west, than we have to feel more secure on the east. There is a linkage there.”   

Qureshi had gone to the extent of questioning India’s motives in Afghanistan. “If there is no massive reconstruction, if there are no long queues in Delhi waiting for visas to travel to Kabul, why do you have such a large presence in Afghanistan? At times it concerns us.” He told Bruce Wallace in the same interview.

India’s keenness to have a greater role in Afghanistan may not be out of place. But one thing Delhi ignores is that it is deeply connected with its relations with Pakistan. Unless both Islamabad and Delhi are on at least a normal mode in their relations, the latter’s involvement in Afghanistan is fraught with the dangers. For that matter any government in Pakistan cannot afford to allow a space to Delhi keeping in view its domestic pressures. For the time being India may be enjoying a cozy relation with karzai government but after the withdrawal the equations are bound to change. For example, will the Taliban (in case they make a comeback) be amenable to India’s role in Kabul.

The biggest danger that looms large in this whole game is that with continuation in bitterness on both sides, the extremists in Pakistan will not allow Islamabad to have any deal with India on Afghanistan.  For them “Kashmir” is the best weapon to use. So the noise about militants making their way into Kashmir after the withdrawal may come true in case India’s influence in Afghanistan increases without bringing a semblance in the relations with Pakistan and break ice on Kashmir. The extremists in Pakistan will hold sway and Afghanistan could well be a new battlefield for both the countries if not a direct one at least proxy. Without moving forward on the path of reconciliation on critical issues such as Kashmir, both India and Pakistan should desist from making any “deal” under compulsion or external influence. Otherwise it will mean an extension of an unending misery that Afghanistan has embraced for last 34 years.

In arrangement with Rising Kashmir

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